(For yet another year, our old friend Professor D. Grover the XIIIth brings us his year-end list of favorite releases, both metal and not — plus some things that aren’t even music.)
Greetings and salutations, friends. I return from the endless void of adult living once more to unleash upon you all my list of my favorite albums from the past year. The list is, mayhap, not quite so extensive as it was in years past, and this is due in no small part to the ever-decreasing amount of listening time that I have. Couple this with the expanding number of albums that draw my interest, and the end result is many albums that I only heard once or twice and then moved on to something that better captured my attention.
Before we move on to the list, here are a few other things from the past year that I greatly enjoyed.
Prof – Bar Breaker (Mildly NSFW)
This may also be my favorite song of the year, if the number of times I kept listening to it is any evidence. Borrowing a beat from Aesop Rock’s brilliant The Blob instrumental mixtape, Prof drops exuberant lyrics about hayride orgies, chubby girls, and karate lessons, and the accompanying video (made of three long single-take sequences) is nigh perfect. (Bonus: the cameos by Doomtree members P.O.S and Sims as paramedics.) I went on for several weeks with this song almost constantly lodged in my head.
I watched a fair amount of TV this year, and the number of high-quality shows was really quite impressive. There were shows that broke new ground in network television (The Last Man On Earth), non-premium cable television (Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul), and streaming television (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp). There were pre-established shows that managed to continue to put out quality content (Orphan Black, Game Of Thrones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Walking Dead). And then, there was the all-too-early end of the brilliant Hannibal, a show that was never quite a fit for a major network and sadly will never receive the fourth and fifth seasons it deserved.
I love Star Wars. It’s a love affair that dates back to my mother seeing The Empire Strikes Back while carrying my developing fetus, and as I grew up with the franchise, my love for it only grew. Now, with the very recent release of the brilliant Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I was able to share and foster that love with my own daughter, and that is an experience that is impossibly wonderful.
Ministry Of Death – Expresident
The art of the mashup is a delicate one, because it can be difficult to find two disparate artists who complement one another enough that mixing the two is sufficient to create a new and worthwhile listening experience. (That is, unless the aim is actually to create something for novelty or comedic purpose, in which case, the weirder, the better.) The marriage of Ministry’s industrial classic Psalm 69 and Death Grips’ influential noise rap mixtape Exmilitary, dreamed up by Los Angeles electronic artist Medafiziks, is simultaneously surprising and logical, but it’s the execution of the mixture that really makes Expresident work.
Uncle Al Jourgenson’s vicious riffs mesh almost seamlessly with the gruff, unconventional vocal stylings of MC Ride, and the tracks being combined suit each other perfectly. The two albums are such a natural mix that it almost sounds like a single album written that way.
Now, on with the albums. First, as always, my list of honorable mentions. It is likely that I’ve left a few things out, and that is certainly not intentional. It’s just very difficult to catalog everything that I’ve heard in the past year, especially given that I spent so much of the year listening to a lot of classic stuff, with a strong focus on Bolt Thrower and Death. The following albums were all worthy of consideration for my final list, but didn’t make the cut for whatever reason. They are all good albums and worth checking out. Thus, in alphabetical order:
A Forest Of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See
Acrania – Fearless
Adversarial – Death, Endless Nothing And The Black Knife Of Nihilism
Aesop Rock – Cat Food
Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire
Alustrium – A Tunnel To Eden
Antigama – The Insolent
Arcturus – Arcturian
Ares Kingdom – The Unburiable Dead
Baroness – Purple
Beaten To Death – Unplugged
Blind Guardian – Beyond The Red Mirror
Busdriver – Thumbs
Castrator – No Victim
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Dan Terminus – The Wrath Of Code
Death Karma – The History Of Death & Burial Rituals Part I
Frosthelm – The Endless Winter
GosT – Behemoth
Gouge – Beyond Death
Grave – Out Of Respect For The Dead
Horrendous – Anareta
Inculter – Persisting Devolution
Katavasia – Sacrilegious Testament
Knife Party – Trigger Warning
Lamb Of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang
Leprous – The Congregation
Lik – Mass Funeral Evocation
Mindful Of Pripyat – … And Deeper, I Drown In Doom…
Moodie Black – I I
Motörhead – Bad Magic
Nagasaki Birth Defect – Nagasaki Birth Defect
Psudoku – Planetarisk Sudoku
Rivers Of Nihil – Monarchy
Sadistic Ritual – Edge Of The Knife
Scale The Summit – V
Shrine Of Insanabilis – Disciples Of The Void
Sielunvihollinen – Hautaruhtinas
Slægt – Beautiful And Damned
Steel Bearing Hand – Steel Bearing Hand
Tau Cross – Tau Cross
The Grotesquery – The Skinless Bride
Thulcandra – Ascension Lost
Tribulation – The Children Of The Night
Triumvir Foul – Triumvir Foul
Under The Church – Rabid Armageddon
Visigoth – The Revenant King
Witchsorrow – No Light, Only Fire
And now, the list proper. The order on the majority of these albums is entirely arbitrary, and I would almost guarantee that the next time I look at this list, the position of many of these albums would be different. Still, it’s a snapshot of my thoughts on the year at this particular moment, and that’s important to remember. I won’t discuss every album on the list because a number of them are fairly self-explanatory, although I will contribute my thoughts on some of them.
Also important to remember: the top six albums on this list were all so close together that any one of them, in another year, could have been the number one album. The top six feature releases from some of my favorite acts, as well as a lone surprise. As always, I feel very strongly about the albums on my list. Now, let’s begin.
- Prof – Liability
This album made the list almost solely on the strength of the aforementioned ‘Bar Breaker’. In fact, my initial listens to the album were a bit of a letdown after the brilliance of that track and my enjoyment of Prof’s previous work. However, as I persevered, the rest of the album began to click, and some of the best tracks are the ones where Prof unleashes a surprisingly soulful singing voice (‘Motel’, ‘Love Like Mine’). Prof’s lyrics aren’t the smartest or most serious, but his tracks are undeniably entertaining.
- Whitey Morgan And The 78’s – Sonic Ranch
Chris Stapleton proved to me that there is hope for Nashville and country music when he won the CMA’s Male Vocalist and Album Of The Year awards, a huge shock in an era when the charts are dominated by pretty boys in bedazzled skinny jeans and the “country” songs that dominate the airwaves are little better than pop songs with southern accents. Even better was Sonic Ranch, the latest release from Whitey Morgan. Much like Stapleton, Morgan made little to no impact on country radio, but he plays country music the way that it should be played, and that’s the most important thing.
- Ranger – Where Evil Dwells
- B. Dolan – Kill The Wolf
- Saviours – Palace Of Vision
This album reminds me of The Sword, specifically Gods Of The Earth-era The Sword, where there’s a mix of stoner metal and thrash that I find absolutely irresistable.
- VHÖL – Deeper Than Sky
- 兀突骨 (Gotsu Totsu Kotsu) – 因果応報 (Retributive Justice)
The best bass in death metal.
- Profanator – Mvtter Vicivm
- Puscifer – Money Shot
- Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman – Lice
The list of rappers capable of holding their own with Aesop Rock is a short one (Rob Sonic is an obvious answer, although I would say that Busdriver, Tonedeff, and maybe Sage Francis would be intriguing matches as well), and Homeboy Sandman doesn’t quite make that list. Still, he gives it the old college try, and any new Aesop Rock material is worthwhile.
- Shining – International Blackjazz Society
- Vorum – Current Mouth
- The Kill – Kill Them… All
- Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages
- Eagles Of Death Metal – Zipper Down
These guys were the center of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris and endured things no one should have to endure. Lost in all that is the fact that Zipper Down is a pretty damn entertaining album, filled with the band’s signature sleazy swagger.
- Ensiferum – One Man Army
One Man Army is something of a return to form for Ensiferum after the disappointing Unsung Heroes. It’s far from a perfect album, and it comes nowhere near the band’s peak albums, but it’s still a solid release in a world where folk metal has become a bit cliche.
- Doomtree – All Hands
- Satan – Atom By Atom
- Unrest – Grindcore
If you’re going to release a grindcore album entirely with the intent of worshipping another influential grindcore band, Nasum is a pretty good choice to emulate.
- Sigh – Graveward
- Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
- Deathhammer – Evil Power
- Dog Fashion Disco – Ad Nauseam
- Enslaved – In Times
- Faith No More – Sol Invictus
- Death Grips – Jenny Death
- Sulphur Aeon – Gateway To The Antisphere
One of the year’s finest melodeath releases, Sulphur Aeon’s Mythos-based lyrics and unconventional melodies were a winning combination.
- Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
- Celldweller – End Of An Empire
- Nechochwen – Heart Of Akamon
- Gruesome – Savage Land
If you’re going to release a death metal album entirely with the intent of worshipping another influential death metal band, Leprosy-era Death is a pretty good choice to emulate.
- Hot Graves – Magnificent Death
Possibly one of the most underrated albums of the year, Magnificent Death seemed to fly under the radar of just about everyone, and it’s a shame, because Hot Graves’ mix of death/black/thrash/crust is incredibly potent.
- Sahara Surfers – High Lands
Sahara Surfers worship at the altar of Kyuss and Colour Haze, and they have a knack for creating some truly mammoth stoner grooves. Add in the beautiful laid-back vocals of Julia Überbacher, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect album for a long drive.
- High On Fire – Luminiferous
Luminiferous reminded me of 2010’s Snakes For The Divine, a happy coincidence as that is my favorite High On Fire album. The band’s songwriting felt more focused and concise than it did on De Vermis Mysteriis, and the riffs felt sharper.
- Pryapisme – Futurologie
What do my favorite French oddballs do to follow up a fantastic full-length album and an EP of chiptune remixes? Why, they release another EP, this of a single epic 22-minute song divided into 11 movements, along with an orchestral version of the same song. Much like Hyperblast Super Collider, Futurologie twists and turns through a myriad of styles and sounds, but there is an order underlying the chaos that is utterly compelling.
- XII Boar – Pitworthy
Somehow, this album is only 15th on my list, a testament to the strength of the albums preceding it. XII Boar hail from the UK, but their sound is straight out of the dirty south, and Pitworthy oozes with a boozy swagger, resulting in some of the year’s finest stoner rock grooves.
- Melechesh – Enki
Melechesh’s Sumerian-influenced black metal sound speaks directly to my soul, it seems. They’ve been remarkably consistent in their output, but every time they release a new album it worms its way into my brain and remains there. Enki is no different.
- Christian Mistress – To Your Death
There are bands who ape the sounds of heavy metal’s progenitors with no mind for what made those bands great, and then there are bands like Christian Mistress who just seem to get it. To Your Death marries NWOBHM riffs with the powerhouse vocals of Christine Davis, and the end product is one of the catchiest metal albums of the year.
- House Of Atreus – The Spear And The Ichor That Follows
My initial impression of The Spear And The Ichor That Follows was one of mild disappointment, when comparing it to House Of Atreus’ brilliant Into The Brazen Boar. It felt as though much of the previous EP’s energy was missing, resulting in some slower songs. A funny thing happened as I continued to listen, though. The band’s Arghoslent-worship riffs coalesced and the flow of the album clicked, and the more I listened, the more I realized just how damn much I like this album. Bonus: this is the best album of the year to feature the lyrical phrase “posthumous erection”.
- Mgła – Exercises In Futility
There’s not enough good that can be said about this album. It features some truly hypnotic, engrossing riffs, and the best black metal drumming this side of Proscriptor McGovern. The cymbals alone, often relegated to a simple manner of helping to keep time, are a point of interest on every single track. I found myself taking more of an interest in black metal this year, and Exercises In Futility was a major factor.
- Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers
This was my first experience with Sarpanitum, and led to my first experience with Mithras (two of Sarpanitum’s members are former or current Mithras live contributors). Blessed Be My Brothers is probably the most distinctive death metal album of the year, thanks to some of the most distinctive riffs this side of Bölzer, and ‘Glorification Upon The Powdered Bones Of The Sundered Dead’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.
- Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Earlier in the year, Coma Ecliptic was one of my album of the year frontrunners. That it slid to number 9 speaks volumes of the albums that came after it. Between The Buried And Me had the unenviable task of following their best album yet (The Parallax II: Future Sequence), and in doing so they decided to incorporate elements of rock opera into the mix. The end result was fairly divisive, but it’s also very decidedly a BTBAM album, and an excellent one at that.
- Fog Of War – Here Lies Humanity
Fog Of War’s self-titled 2009 album is my favorite post-2000 thrash metal album, due in large part to the brilliant work of then-bassist Joe Orterry. He departed the band in 2011, and I had my concerns that he would prove difficult to replace. Thankfully, Here Lies Humanity showed no dropoff thanks to the talents of Nick Mamere, and it proved to be a worthy followup and my favorite pure thrash album of the year.
- Black Fast – Terms Of Surrender
I say that Fog Of War had my favorite pure thrash album of the year because Black Fast, who mix in elements of death and black metal with thrash, barely edged them in my list with the brilliant Terms Of Surrender. Black Fast specialize in catchy, technical riffs that bring to mind Vektor’s finer moments, and Terms Of Surrender proves a worthy followup to 2013’s brilliant Starving Out The Light.
- Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Amorphis had fallen into something of a rut with The Beginning Of Times and Circle, two albums that are still better than most of the melodeath releases out there. So, I had my doubts about Under The Red Cloud. However, something about this album is different. All the hallmarks of Tomi Joutsen-era Amorphis are present, but the songwriting feels energized, and the end product is an album that is easily on par with Eclipse and Silent Waters. Amorphis continue to make some of the best melodic death metal (with emphasis on melodic) you will ever hear.
- Gorod – A Maze Of Recycled Creeds
I love Gorod, and view them as the gold standard of technical death metal. Their knack for creating intricately technical songs that are somehow still insanely catchy is absolutely unmatched in the modern metal landscape, and so I was surprised when A Maze Of Recycled Creeds initially failed to really grab my attention. Part of the problem, it seems, was the promotional copy of the album, which was very poorly compressed and flattened most of the life out of the music, but it was also due in part to the unconventional nature of many of the album’s songs. Getting a proper copy of the album proved that the mastering was fine after all, however, and repeat listens served only to help the album burrow its way deep into my consciousness. The kings of technical death metal continue their reign.
- Ghost – Meliora
This is hands-down the most insanely catchy album of the year. The hype surrounding Ghost and their particular blend of pop and metal had already reached a fever pitch before Meliora’s release, and it seemed that there was no way that the mysterious ghouls would be able to meet expectations. As it turned out, Ghost not only met expectations, they exceeded them, culminating in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that had to have set the FCC’s complaint lines a-ringing. (Seriously, someone should get their hands on the complaints the FCC received due to Ghost’s performance. That would make for comedy gold.) Thanks to the album-opening triptych of ‘Spirit’, ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’, and ‘Cirice’, Meliora starts strong and rarely relents.
- Thy Catafalque – Sgúrr
In a (now) rare bit of writing, I reviewed Sgúrr for the venerable Metal Bandcamp, and thus I’m going to quote myself here rather than coming up with new thoughts regarding this brilliant album.
“Perhaps more than any previous Thy Catafalque album, Sgùrr feels like a journey, a hike through the realm of nature yet unspoiled by the infringements of civilization. It is at once familiar to fans of Thy Catafalque’s previous work and something new, a continuation of an established style and an evolution of that style all at once, something that few artists ever manage to successfully do… All the trademarks of Kátai’s work are present, from the thunderous guitar riffs and distinctive drum sound to the incomparable synth melodies, but the way that they are presented and deployed serves to create an album that both fits comfortably into the Thy Catafalque discography and yet stands out as its own unique work.”
- Clutch – Psychic Warfare
The last time Clutch released an album (2013’s brilliant Earth Rocker), it was my album of the year. Psychic Warfare very nearly duplicated that feat, because at day’s end, Clutch is far and away the best band in rock music, and it’s not even close. Brilliant tunes like ‘Firebirds’, ‘A Quick Death In Texas’, and ‘Noble Savage’ serve to remind that Clutch are one of those rare bands who seem to be improving with age, even as they hit the 25-year mark.
- Obsequiae – Aria Of Vernal Tombs
Somehow, the album that managed to keep Clutch out of the top spot was one that came more or less from left field for me. I had heard Obsequiae’s debut, 2011’s Suspended In The Brume Of Eos, and enjoyed it a great deal, but I held no expectations about Aria Of Vernal Tombs. After all, my enjoyment of black metal tends to be fairly limited, and Obsequiae’s particular “gimmick” (medieval scales and harp interludes) seems a bit pretentious when you’re just reading the words. However, hearing the music immediately banished any hint of pretension.
I’ll say this: Aria Of Vernal Tombs is, without a doubt, the most beautiful metal album I have ever heard. The harp interludes are a major part of this, perfectly setting the album’s atmosphere, but there’s also incredible beauty in the music, the warm fuzz of the guitar and the intricate medieval melodies that dominate the metal portions of the album. There is nothing else out there that is anything like Obsequiae, and when it came time to compile this list, the decision to put this album at the top was an easy one.
There you have it, friends. I hope that 2016 brings another wonderful array of quality releases! Farewell for now!